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Researchers identify cells that make relapse inevitable in acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Prague, Czech Republic: In "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about the good and evil sides of the same person; now scientists in Australia have discovered that in acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) there are Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde cells "good" and "evil" clones of the same type of ALL cell.

The "evil" cells are clones that have a pre-existing, rather than acquired, resistance to drugs used for treating ALL, and their presence in a patient means that person will inevitably relapse after chemotherapy, however well they respond initially.

The discovery means that now researchers may be able to design therapies that will specifically target these resistant subclones so that, in the future, patients who have been identified as having them can be treated immediately with the alternative therapies.

ALL is the most common cancer in children and, although nearly all patients will respond initially to chemotherapy, one in four will relapse. Seoyeon Choi told the EORTC-NCI-AACR [1] Symposium on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Prague today (Thursday 9 November): "We have previously shown that these relapses were due to small numbers of surviving and highly drug refractory cells. However, until now, it has been unclear whether these relapses resulted from the acquisition of therapy-induced drug resistance or were caused by a subpopulation of cells that were already intrinsically drug resistant."

Ms Choi, a final year PhD student at the Children's Cancer Institute Australia in Sydney and medical student at the University of Sydney, Australia, analysed samples taken from 25 ALL patients at the time of their diagnosis and at their relapse to discover the molecular "fingerprint" of every ALL cell.

"White blood cells, or lymphocytes, are unique in that every one has its own molecular signature. Therefore, we can 'molecular fingerprint' each lymphocyte in order to know what the leukaemia 'looks' l
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Contact: Emma Mason
wordmason@mac.com
44-077-112-96986
European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer
9-Nov-2006


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